Material Culture Studies Graduate Programs

Interested students may pursue a graduate certificate, master's or doctoral degree in material culture. Learn about these programs, some typical coursework and common admissions standards and requirements.

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Graduate degree programs in material culture are most commonly offered as graduate certificate, Master of Arts or PhD programs and may have program titles like American Material Culture or Material Culture and Public Humanities. These degree programs examine the historical, cultural and theoretical perspectives of different objects and materials. Find out more about the requirements for this degree program to see if it is a good fit for you.

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Information for Graduate Degree Programs in Material Culture

Graduate degree programs in material culture at both the master's and doctoral degree levels typically involve some kind of hands-on learning experience through practicum, internships and/or thesis/dissertation options. Students may choose elective courses that allow them to focus their studies on a particular time period and/or culture, but here we examine some of the common courses for these programs.


Programs in material culture typically offer courses in decorative arts and design, as well as courses that discuss exhibition and design. Courses in decorative arts and design may focus on a particular time period or culture and discuss topics in various designers and styles, such as Art Deco and Victorian Culture. These courses usually comprise of lectures, class discussions and readings.

Theories of Material Culture

As the name applies, topics in the theories of material culture class help students to further investigate the theories and practices in the field. Areas of study may include the social life of objects, gendered objects, built environments and modes of object analysis. Some of these courses may then focus on applying these concepts to a variety of cultural objects that are well-known to the public.

Digital History

Courses in digital history examine the research and presentation methods for various subjects in history using digital media. Students learn about a range of digital tools, including mapping, augmented reality and social networking. Students may also discuss the use of these tools at historic sites, museums and other areas, as well as issues of privacy, access and data transmission.

Historic Interiors

Some subjects in historic interiors may look at the preservation of such spaces, while others study interiors from a particular time period and/or style. Courses in the preservation of these sites may explore concepts in historical research methodology and how legal, economic and social issues affect these preservation practices. Classes that explore interiors from a specific period may allow students to visit different historic interiors and practice developing furnishing plans.


Students in these courses study and practice the various aspects of connoisseurship, or identifying and evaluating pieces of decorative art. Students may examine furniture, ceramics, silver, sculptures and paintings and learn how to identify materials and styles. These courses typically have a lecture component but do allow for hands-on evaluation and research of objects, which may result in a required term paper.

Common Entrance Requirements

Applicants to a master's degree program in material culture need a bachelor's degree, and those applying to a doctoral program need a master's degree. For certificate programs, students should likely already be a graduate student and may need to submit an essay explaining why they want to earn a certificate. All graduate students typically need to submit the appropriate application, official transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Some programs may have a minimum GPA requirement of a 3.0 and/or ask for a writing sample and require students to go through an interview process. Although particular majors or coursework are not usually required, some programs may prefer applicants who have work experience or education in art history, architecture, material culture studies, archeology, history of design or another related field.

A graduate degree or certificate in material culture allows students to explore a wide range of topics in the field through lectures and hands-on learning experiences. Most graduate students are required to complete a thesis, while doctoral students complete a dissertation in their area of interest.

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